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Get ready to see electric ferries all over Canada—Here’s how it’s happening

Updated: Mar 23

Just a few years ago, electric passenger-only commuter ferries were rarely found anywhere in the world. But 2023 was a pivotal year for electric battery technologies as they were rapidly adopted by the maritime industry. Currently, all-electric passenger-only commuter ferries are in operation in countries around the world, including Norway, New Zealand, and Singapore.

They’re about to be seen all over Canada, too, based on the latest directions in policy and practice: two reports released by Canadian organizations have highlighted the need for electric passenger-only ferries, while the province of Nova Scotia announced plans for an ambitious electric ferry project in the Halifax urban area.

Passenger-only ferries make good policy

Last month, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) published Connecting BC: a 10-year transportation investment plan that outlines a path to make transportation in the province affordable, accessible, inclusive, carbon-zero – as well as a great experience for users. The transportation plan outlined in the report is one that’s suited to British Columbia’s future, not its past.

Much of BC’s infrastructure development in past decades has centered around moving cars. But according to the CCPA report, BC has an opportunity to pivot. The report pitches ten big transportation ideas that push beyond personal automobiles to make car-free travel a viable, attractive option throughout the province. The vision is to be able to travel between almost any two points on the BC map by using public transportation – bus, ferry, train, or another mode.

The CCPA paper emphasizes that passenger-only ferries are a key part of this plan. The report advocates for new passenger ferry options from downtown Vancouver to various destinations, including Victoria, Nanaimo, Gibsons/Sechelt, and the Gulf Islands. These ferries would help alleviate congestion issues at ferry terminals without the major capital investments for more vehicle ferries. An downtown terminal in Vancouver, for example, could serve these routes while also linking into landside transportation networks.

While the scope of the report doesn’t extend to the technologies that make these routes possible while minimizing climate impacts, it’s clear that electric batteries are the most feasible and lowest-emitting way to power such ferries.

Ferries predicted to be a key part of transportation innovation

A research report from Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), funded by The Canada Infrastructure Bank, examined promising transportation innovations that will make Canada a global leader in low-carbon, smart-mobility transportation.

The report predicted an increased focus on waterway transportation in the near future, especially in urban areas. ferries were highlighted as “faster, more efficient and more direct than bridges and tunnels” and highly effective for moving people around a region when terminals integrate with existing land-based transit systems. The report identified electric propulsion as a promising way to achieve zero-emissions fleets, while acknowledging the complexity of comprehensively evaluating each situation and designing the vessel accordingly.

A good plan for Halifax

In line with these reports, some coastal communities in Canada are moving ahead quickly with passenger-only ferries.

In March, the Province of Nova Scotia announced major funding for an ambitious passenger-only ferry project. The service will connect Bedford to Halifax using five all-electric passenger-only ferries, with the goal of making environmentally-sustainable transportation convenient enough to compete with personal vehicles. Not only will this improved ferry service help people get around faster, it will also promote continuous urban growth in proximity to the terminals. The service is expected to launch in 2028.

Electric ferries’ future in Canada

Greenline has been among the leading voices in Canada calling for advancement of electric passenger-only ferries to set up the country for a greener and more connected future. Indeed, both the CCPA and CUTRIC reports unequivocally state that passenger-only ferries can provide more convenient and connected transportation that reduces the need for personal vehicles.

Greenline has worked to build an airtight case for such a ferry service in British Columbia, by comprehensively examining technical, economic, social, commercial, and environmental factors. Our team believes it’s only a matter of time before electric, passenger-only ferries become a reality in BC – shifting the paradigm of marine transportation and how communities are connected in the province.


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